A pumpkin and corn on the Thanksgiving beach.

Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude, reflection, and gathering with loved ones to share a special meal. For those who have experienced narcissistic abuse or are currently co-parenting with an abusive ex-partner, this holiday can bring additional challenges and stress. In this blog post, I want to share what narcissistic abuse looks like during Thanksgiving and offer insights into how divorced parents can co-parent or parallel-parent while setting necessary boundaries to protect their well-being.

Understanding Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic abuse is a prevalent and destructive form of emotional and psychological abuse characterized by manipulation, control, and an excessive need for admiration and attention by the abuser. Those who have experienced narcissistic abuse often endure gaslighting, belittling, and emotional manipulation, leaving them with feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, and depression.

A pumpkin with a tag that says happy thanksgiving.
A pumpkin with a tag that says happy thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving and Narcissistic Abuse

Holidays like Thanksgiving can be particularly challenging for survivors of narcissistic abuse, especially when they have to interact with their abuser. Abusers may use these occasions to exert control, create drama, or seek attention. 


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When I was married and even since we divorced, Thanksgiving has almost always been a time when he would step up the game of abuse. When we were together, Thanksgiving had to be how he wanted it to be, the food and how the day went. After we divorced, it has been about controlling or creating drama, trying to force himself into my holiday with the kids, or even making it difficult for the kids and me to celebrate with family. While as time has gone on, things have gotten a little better, every once in a while, his need to control how the holiday goes still sneaks in. 

Some common behaviors to watch out for during Thanksgiving may include:

  1. Hoovering: Narcissistic abusers may attempt to ‘hoover’ their victims back into a toxic relationship during the holiday season. They may send seemingly heartfelt messages or make grand gestures to manipulate emotions.
  2. Triangulation: Abusers may try to pit family members or children against each other, causing tension and conflict during Thanksgiving gatherings.
  3. Grandiosity: Narcissists may demand the spotlight, insisting on being the center of attention at family events, making it difficult for others to enjoy the holiday.
  4. Control Tactics: Abusers might attempt to control the holiday plans, manipulate the schedule, or use the occasion to exert power over their ex-partner.

Navigating Thanksgiving with an Abuser

If you find yourself co-parenting with a narcissistic ex-partner during Thanksgiving, it’s important to prioritize your well-being and that of your children. Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Parallel Parenting: In cases of high conflict or abuse, parallel parenting may be a more suitable approach than co-parenting. Parallel parenting involves minimizing direct communication with the ex-partner and focusing solely on the children’s needs. Use apps or email for communication and limit in-person interactions.
  2. Create a Detailed Plan: Plan ahead for Thanksgiving by setting clear boundaries and expectations. Establish a schedule for the children and communicate it clearly to avoid last-minute changes or power plays. Make sure that major holidays, such as Thanksgiving, are spelled out clearly in your parenting plan.
  3. Stay Focused on the Children: During the holiday gathering, prioritize your children’s well-being. Focus on creating positive experiences and cherished memories with them. If you need to fall back on your parenting plan, let your ex-partner know you want to follow the parenting plan. Avoid engaging in arguments or power struggles with the abusive ex-partner.
  4. Lean on Support: Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist who understands narcissistic abuse. Having a support system can provide emotional validation and help you cope with the challenges of the holiday season. 
  5. Self-Care: Prioritize self-care during Thanksgiving and the holiday season. Take breaks, practice relaxation techniques, and engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. This will help you maintain your emotional strength.
A Thanksgiving card with pumpkins on a blanket on the beach.
A Thanksgiving card with pumpkins on a blanket on the beach.

Conclusion

Thanksgiving can be a time of joy and togetherness, but it can also pose unique challenges for those co-parenting with an abusive ex-partner. It’s crucial to prioritize your well-being and the well-being of your children during this holiday season. Whether you opt for co-parenting or parallel parenting, setting clear boundaries, seeking support, and creating joyous memories with your children are essential steps.

As a divorce coach, I can offer valuable guidance and support to help you navigate the holidays successfully. Remember that you have the right to enjoy the holidays, and by taking these measures and seeking professional assistance, you can reclaim your power and emotional resilience, ensuring a more peaceful and fulfilling Thanksgiving. You don’t have to face these challenges alone, and with the right strategies and support, you can make the most of this festive season.

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